Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

[ファイアーエムブレム エコーズ もうひとりの英雄王]

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (2017)

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Director: Toshiyuki Kusakihara, Kenta Nakanishi
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

The grandson of a famous knight and a lost princess take different courses to save their kingdom amid foreign invasion and the waning power of the gods.

This game is a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, the second entry in the series, which took the gameplay in a few different directions from the first game as the system had yet to be fully codified. To recap the basics for the uninitiated, this is a grid-based, turn-based strategy RPG with job-based units. One of the main features of Fire Emblem games is the rock-paper-scissors system of combat, but the original was made before the introduction of the weapons triad, which will come as a relief as you starting party of sword-wielding villagers face almost nothing but spear-wielding soldiers the first few missions. About the only major advantages are archers versus flying units (which isn't nearly as pronounced as most FE games) and certain weapons such as the Knight Killer versus mounted units. If you're just coming off Fire Emblem Fates, the absence of weapon durability won't be anything new, but one significant difference is that all spells are cast from HP. Also, clerics and such have Nosferatu/Resaia as a defensive/offensive option, albeit with typically a lower hit rate. Archers can counterattack melee fighters, which is another significant point. Also, there is no zero damage attacks. You (and enemies) always do at least 1HP damage if an attack connects. This can be critical at some junctures.

Not counting the villager underclass, there are three tiers on the promotion chain in the job system, but I'll be honest with you. I beat the game without ever promoting any of my team to Tier 3. (I like to get my characters to 20 in their current tier before promotion unless a particular mission's difficulty forces me to promote characters.) There are a number of active and passive skills with different acquisition rates depending on the individual characters. Also, you have a single inventory slot that you can use for weapons and items that can unlock special abilities. Speaking of weapons, you can upgrade them at blacksmiths in certain towns to improve their stats or upgrade them into new weapons entirely.

While the first two chapters alternate between Alm and Celica, as of Chapter 3 the two campaigns run in parallel. Besides major campaign missions, there are also "random" encounters at places like graveyards, but the really interesting new feature are dungeon crawling segments, where you switch to third-person and run around the environment. These can be a bit of a slog, though, as you can only take a limited number of party members and can only save outside the dungeon or in a shrine if they have one. If you're playing in Classic mode like a true FE veteran, then that'll wreak havoc on your usual save-scumming ways. Speaking of which, a concession to the more recent developments in the franchise gives you the option to choose between Classic mode, where characters who die are lost forever, and Casual mode, where lost characters can be revived. There are three difficulty levels: Normal, Hard and Lunatic. I played on Hard and while there was some challenge, I've had more punishing FE experiences before.

For those of you hoping to see your favorite ships given life in the form of a breeding mini game as in Awakening and Fates, you're going to be disappointed. We still have supports for certain characters, but they only go up to A rank. While you get stat bonuses for supported characters within two squares of each other, new features introduced in more recent titles like defensive unions and linked attacks are absent.

Because the original game came out in the Famicom era, there wasn't much meat on the bones, as it were. As such, this is probably one of the areas where the remake shines. A lot of work was put in to boost the characterization of the existing cast (and actually make them all unique individuals) and add new characters to further flesh out the story.

I rather like the parallel approach running Alm and Celica's stories. From what I understand, Alm was lightened a fair bit from his original interpretation, which makes him less at odds with Celica. The overall plotline is fairly standard for the series, decent but not amazing. The real draw is the characters and if you connect with the cast, you'll enjoy following their stories to the end. Overall, I tended to prefer Celica's party to Alm's, as much for gameplay reasons as characterization, but generally found Alm's questline more satisfying storywise.

The in-game graphics are pretty much on the same level as Fates, good for a handheld but not mind-blowing or anything. The cutscenes are quite well-done, though. And while I quite enjoyed Yusuke Kozaki's work as character designer for Awakening and Fates, I have to say that Hidari does a very good job here. If you happened to play the original Gaiden, then it's a night-and-day difference.

The music has always been a strong point of the Fire Emblem series and this entry is no exception. We also get some delightfully grandiose narration that almost makes it feel like I'm watching Record of Lodoss War. Longtime fans will be amused that Takehito Koyasu gets to play yet another character in the series (and that if you cross his previous roles as Navarre and Zero/Niles, you basically get Saber). We get some good voice performances. I love all the little in-battle commentary in particular. You may come to hate the sound of gargoyles screeching, but other than that, your ears should be quite satisfied.

After having purchased all the DLC for Fates and not doing much with it, I'm not really interested in going down that route again. You may want to consider the additional characters, but unless you're that hooked and have the money to burn, I'd say the base game is enough.

Hardly anyone was expecting the black sheep of the Fire Emblem family to get a remake, but I'm glad we have it. It's not as big of an experience as the last two major entries, but given the source material and production window, it's understandable. I'm quite happy with what I got and happily recommend it to any FE fan out there.

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